Jane Fonda and aging: a TED talk on “Life’s Third Act”

Jane Fonda has re-invented herself, and her career, multiple times. Actor, fitness guru, activist … and she’s not done yet. In this TED Talk, she talks about the extra 30 years that have been added to our life expectancy, with insights and suggestions on how we can make the most of them.

Caring for your aging parents

As you get older, your parents are aging too (if you’re lucky enough to still have them!) For most of us, this means that we need to provide more and more care to help look after them. Whether they’re still living independently, or they’ve moved to a retirement or nursing home, there are a lot of areas where they might need your help. Financial, medical, legal, social – there are a lot of things to consider.

In an article posted on MarketWatch, writer Joe Hearn shares a very comprehensive checklist to make sure you cover off all aspects of your parents’ lives that they might need help with.

(from “A simple but thorough checklist to help aging parents,” by Joe Hearn, Oct. 13/14, retrieved from: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/a-simple-but-thorough-checklist-to-help-aging-parents-2014-10-30)

This is Hearn’s checklist, which you can use as a helpful guide to make sure you have everything covered:

Finances

  • Make a list of all accounts and where they are held
  • Get contact information for their advisers
  • Consolidate and simplify accounts where possible
  • Make sure the accounts are titled correctly
  • Offer to sit in on a meeting with their financial adviser to review investments, make sure the asset allocation is appropriate and make sure there are adequate resources to support your parents’ lifestyle
  • Review Social Security benefits
  • Make sure all beneficiary designations are up-to-date
  • Streamline bill paying

Insurance

  • Make a list of all insurance policies (life, health, long-term care, etc.) and where they are located
  • Get contact information for their insurance advisers
  • Offer to sit in on a meeting with their insurance adviser to see if a long-term care insurance policy would be appropriate
  • Review homeowners, auto and umbrella liability insurance to make sure they are adequate, appropriate and up-to-date.
  • Review health insurance coverage and consider whether it would be appropriate to add a Medigap policy to pay for costs not covered by Medicare

Legal documents

  • Do they have a will or estate plan?
  • If so, does it reflect their current wishes (i.e. does it pass property to the correct people and have the correct people taking charge)?
  • Do they have an up-to-date durable power of attorney for finance?
  • Do they have an up-to-date durable power of attorney for health care?
  • Does their health care power of attorney contain a health-care directive that spells out their wishes for life-prolonging care?

Living arrangements

  • Is the current housing situation suitable?
  • Do any changes, updates or modifications need to be made to the house?
  • Have they made contingency plans for illness, disability or death of a spouse?
  • Is there money available to pay for those contingencies (e.g. savings or long-term care insurance)?

Health

  • Make a list of their doctors as well as any medications they are taking
  • Help coordinate benefits between care providers and insurance companies

This looks like a lot – and it is. If you can, try to break down into manageable chunks, i.e. tackle it section by section, starting with your most urgent priorities. And if you need to, and you can afford it, bring in specialists to support you. Seniors’ consultants, such as ElderCare Canada, can help you figure out what steps to take, and when. They can advise on when it’s necessary for a senior to move into assisted living, for example, or can help you find local support people who can visit your parent at home.

Should you take out a reverse mortgage?

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Sounds like the perfect setup – take out a reverse mortgage on your home, age in place and have the funds to do whatever you want. Travel, buy a convertible, even start up that consultancy. So what’s the downside?

Well, the first caution is that interest rates on reverse mortgages can be sky-high compared to other types of loans.

With a reverse mortgage, you don’t have to make any payments. You typically receive a lump sum, and then nothing needs to be done until you sell your home (either because you decide to, or as part of your estate after you die.)  

So the amount you owe just keeps growing over the life of your mortgage. It will never be more than the fair market value of your home, but there likely won’t be anything left over when your mortgage or your estate is settled. And there are significant financial penalties for paying out your mortgage before the term is over.

Financial advisors recommend that borrowers look to other options if they can, such as a line of credit, or sell the home, and move to a smaller home or even rent. They say that reverse mortgages are good for people who are house-rich, but cash-poor, and who can’t make any interest payments. Other than that, it’s probably better to borrow elsewhere.

Ready to retire?

Some of us start dreaming of retirement in our 40s, while others want to keep on working until the end. There are pros and cons to either approach, of course. We all know the stories about people who died shortly after retiring, never having the chance to enjoy their retirement. And we’ve heard the stories about people who retired, and then just about died of boredom, not knowing what to do with all of their free time. Then there are those who retire early and live life to the fullest, energized by travel, new projects, and new experiences.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

So when should you plan to retire? Well, your financial situation is of course the main driver in your decision. But once you’ve figured that part out, should you aim to retire early – or late?

Unfortunately, the science won’t help you decide. There are studies that support both options. A US study determined that an extra seven years of retirement could be just as good for you as actively taking steps to reduce your risk of heart disease or diabetes. (And it’s a lot easier than diet and exercise!) But an article on the Harvard Health Blog, “Is retirement good for health or bad for it?” cites a study that showed recent retirees were 40% more likely to have a stroke or heart attack, compared to their counterparts who were still working.

Maybe it all comes down to your personality type. Are you happy puttering about on weekends? Do you enjoy hobbies, and activities like golf or curling? Or do you find yourself checking your work email often, even during your leisure time?  That can give you a clue as to how easy it will be for you to fill your time, once work is not taking up most of it.

And if you’re tired of work, ask yourself if you’re tired of your job, or work entirely. It may be that it’s time for a new job. A lot of people switch from a “big” job to a less demanding type of job at mid-life, i.e. trade a high-level corporate role for a job at a non-profit. This can be a perfect way to switch gears.  

When your knees hurt

Do you still have your original knees? More than 70,000 Canadians had a knee replacement last year, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. The main reason? Osteoarthritis, or degenerative arthritis, which can cause significant pain and mobility issues. More than half of those who had a knee replaced were over the age of 65, and the surgery is equally common for both men and women.

Photo by Anna Auza on Unsplash

Long before it gets to the point of surgery, though, lots of people have problems with their knees. By the time we reach our fifties, we probably know at least half dozen people who have had their knees “scoped.” This is a mildly-invasive surgery where a surgeon makes several tiny incisions around your knee, and inserts an arthroscope, equipped with a camera and cutting tools. The surgeon looks in the viewer, and removes any cartilage, bone, or fluids that are causing problems. It’s also used to diagnose knee problems, such as a torn meniscus or some torn cartilage.

But why do so many people have sore knees? In an interview on Global News, Dr. Paul Wong, chief of orthopaedics at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, described it as a “quiet epidemic.” He says he’s seen the number of knee surgeries double over the last 20 years. For some, knee pain starts in their 30s, for others, it digs in in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. With so many knee pain sufferers, it’s clear the knee was not designed for the long haul. Of course, many knee problems are caused by accidents, or overuse – think runner’s knee, or the damage caused when you twist your knee.

And the knee bears a heavy burden – no pun intended. Ten pounds of body weight means 30 – 60 pounds of pressure on your knees. So the knees of a 200-pound man are subject to the pressure of 600 – 1200 pounds, at every step. So it’s no wonder our knees complain!

Is there anything we can do to help our knees last longer? According to an article in the Harvard News Letter, “Age-proof your knees,” there’s actually quite a bit we can do.

  • Strengthen the muscles around your knees
  • Lose some weight
  • Stretch to increase your range of motion
  • Don’t do deep squats, ever
  • Never go barefoot on hard surfaces

And hold off on that knee replacement surgery for as long as you can. Today, the average hospital stay for is about 3 days, but the trend is moving toward day surgery for knees, so you might as well wait until it’s easier to fit into your schedule.

Co-housing to combat the loneliness of growing old

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Canadians are getting older. The 2016 census showed that there are more people aged 65 and older than there are under the age of 15. That marks the first time this has happened in over 100 years. In an article in the Globe and Mail, “Census 2016: Canada’s Seniors Outnumber its Children for First Time in Survey History,” Laurent Martel of Statscan’s demography division, was quoted as saying: “We are at a historic moment – it’s a generational shift. This is it – basically the population aging has just accelerated, and the pace of aging will continue to be quite rapid in the coming years because these very large cohorts of boomers will continue to hit age 65 up until 2031.”

In addition to all the implications for healthcare, employment, and social costs, there’s another result: there will be more lonely people in this country. As we age, the truth is we become more lonely.  It might be due to the death of a spouse, retirement, children growing up and moving away, friends passing away or just becoming less social – there are lots of reasons.

And loneliness isn’t just unpleasant. It can cause depression and make other health problems worse. And – what if you fall and there’s no one around to help you?

Is there a solution?

Well, you might consider co-housing.

A cross between living alone and living in an institution (i.e. a retirement or nursing home), co-housing offers socializing and support that might be missing if you live by yourself. Some co-housing settings are created by developers, who sell shares, while others are created by groups of people who want to live in a co-housing setting.  Harbourside Housing in Sooke, B.C., is one of the best-known (and nicest!) examples of people coming together to set up a co-housing relationship. The founders bought a waterfront resort in 2011, and created a beautiful community with 31 units.

Solterra is a company that builds and manages co-housing houses across Ontario. Buyers purchase a room in a home, and share common areas. Wine on the Porch was a housing collective that came to a sad end … after trying to get a co-housing project started in Toronto, the group admitted defeat. Among the reasons cited for the failure – people with money didn’t want to share amenities, and people without money were the ones who wanted in, but couldn’t afford it.  

Is it harder to make friends after 50?

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Sadly, the answer is yes – it is harder to make new friends as we age. As humans, we tend to bond over shared experiences. So it’s easy to make friends at pivotal life stages – when we start kindergarten, for example, or when we go to university, or when we have children and make friends with other parents. As we get older, and have fewer major life experiences, and interact with fewer people, it means our chances of making new friends are greatly reduced.

And as we age, many of us become more lonely. In the UK, loneliness has become so much of a problem that the government introduced a “Minister of Loneliness” in 2018. It turns out that being lonely causes all sorts of health and social problems, which the program aims to address. Loneliness can contribute to heart disease, depression and even Alzheimer’s. By providing government resources to help people feel less lonely, the programs (which will include things like classes at community centers, walking clubs, etc.) will also save on health costs.

Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

But why are we so lonely? In an article in the Walrus, The Science of Loneliness, author Sam Juric says that people have never been lonelier. It’s partly due to technology, and partly due to changes in the way we live now – more people live alone, across all ages.

So is there anything we can do about it?  

Well, researchers at the University of Kansas[i] have found that it takes 50 hours of time spent together for people to become “casual friends.” To become close friends, they say, it takes 200 hours.

Those figures seem awfully high. If you were to take a cooking class, for example, you wouldn’t need 50 hours of interaction with your classmates to strike up an acquaintanceship. You’d likely graduate to coffee after class, or a drink, in a lot less time than 50 hours.

And it turns out that taking a class, or joining a club, is the best way to become less lonely – which is the first step on the way to making new friends. Expand your circle of acquaintances. Do things that mean you interact with more people. Focus on increasing your volume of acquaintances first, and then see what happens.

Photo by Stanislav Kondratiev on Unsplash

Most important – stay off your phone, and reduce the time you spend on social media. It’s a downward spiral. According to an article in Psychology Today, “The 2 Reasons Why So Many People Are Becoming Lonelier,” by Caroline Beaton, going online can make us even more isolated, and damage our remaining relationships. (The other reason is that loneliness is contagious – people will respond negatively to a lonely person, which compounds their isolation.)

But it’s not impossible to become more social at mid-life, and beyond. It just takes more work – but in terms of the health and happiness benefits, it’s more than worth it.


[i] Hall, Jeffrey. (2018). How many hours does it take to make a friend?. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 026540751876122. 10.1177/0265407518761225. retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323783184_How_many_hours_does_it_take_to_make_a_friend

When are we at our prime?

Photo by Melanie Hughes on Unsplash

Is it when we look our best, or when our minds are the sharpest they’ll be during our lifespan? Or is it when our feelings of happiness are at their highest?

If we’re lucky, most of us will be around for close to 100 years. Over the course of that time, it turns out that we’ll have multiple “primes.” Our skin will never look better than it did on the day we were born, but it will still be protecting us and holding us together, decades later (and no matter how you feel about wrinkles, that’s a win).

Physically, we reach our prime at about age 25 ­– that’s when our muscle mass reaches its peak. Our bones are strongest at age 30, and our brain processing power is strongest at age 18 (go figure!)[i] We start getting shorter after age 30,  and some of us will lose as much as three inches by the time we’re done, in our ‘80s or ‘90s.   

Psychologically, studies show that we’re happy in our 20s and 30s, we become less happy in our 40s and into our 50s, and then we start to be happy again in our 60s, with a peak of contentment at age 69.[ii]

Photo by Jake Fagan at UnSplash

So why is it that we tend to view the progression of our lives as an arc, where once we reach the midpoint it’s just a downward slope to the bottom?

Well, our society’s focus on youth is a big part of it, which is reinforced in advertising.  “The world of oldsvertising is a hellscape full of reverse mortgages, erectile dysfunction pills, and bathtubs that won’t kill you,” says Jeff Beer, staff editor at Fast Company, in an article titled “Why marketing to seniors is so terrible.”[iii]

The ageism we start to experience at work feeds into it too. For women, ageism in the workplace starts at age 40. For men it’s typically age 45. And in some industries it starts even earlier. Tech workers are considered old at 29, and absolutely ancient at age 38[iv].  

But many companies are now advertising more authentically to people over 50. Think L’Oreal, featuring Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda in advertising, and Covergirl, which recently did a campaign with Maye Musk (although the cred may be just as much due to her being Elon’s mother.)   

Photo by Mitch Hodge at UnSplash

When it comes to ageism in the workplace, companies are at least now becoming more aware of the problem, thanks to some high-profile organizations that have been successfully sued for age discrimination (WeWork, Google, IBM, and others.) Will that help? At this point, it’s not clear, but at least these court cases have given ageism some heightened prominence.

But we can take heart. It turns out that our sense of well-being is highest at age 82. Instead of a regular arc, maybe we can look at our progression through life like an upside-down-arc. All we need to do is get through that dip in the middle, and we’re back to contentment and serenity.   


[i] Chris Weller and Skye Gould, “Here are the ages you peak at everything throughout life,” Business Insider, Oct. 5, 2017, retrieved from: https://www.businessinsider.com/best-age-for-everything-2017-3//?r=AU&IR=T/#learning-a-second-language-is-easiest-when-youre-about-7-or-8-1

[ii] Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D., “At What Age Will You Really Be Happiest?” Psychology Today, Sept. 21/15, retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/media-spotlight/201509/what-age-will-you-really-be-happiest

[iii] Jeff Beer, “Why marketing to seniors is so terrible.” Fast Company, May 6, 2019, retrieved from: https://www.fastcompany.com/90341477/why-marketing-to-seniors-is-so-terrible

[iv] Jayne Smith, “Age discrimination now begins for tech workers at 29,” Insight, December 6, 2019, retrieved from: https://workplaceinsight.net/age-discrimination-now-begins-for-tech-workers-at-29/

Fast forward

Photo by Elisa Michelet on Unsplash

Why does time seem to speed up as we get older? The months and years seem to roll by, faster and faster. We just put the holiday ornaments away, and it’s time to pull them out again. Same with the summer clothes – even though the winter seems to drag on, day-to-day, with a snap it’s over, and we’re planning summer weekends again.

People have always come up with explanations for why we feel like time speeds up. Some claim it’s due to the overall amount of time we have experienced so far. For a six-year-old, an entire summer represents a huge block of time experienced. For a 60-year-old, that same summer represents a small percentage of a total lifetime. Others have suggested that as our metabolisms slow, somehow that causes our memories to speed up.

In an article on Psychology Today, “Why Time Goes Faster as You Get Older,” author Ronald Riggio suggests that it’s the novelty of the experiences we have when we are young that makes it seem like time is moving more slowly. The first time you ride a bike, the first time you visit Disney World, or the first time you kiss someone – these experiences are still clear in our memories years later, because the novelty of them causes us to remember all the details. Once something becomes repetitive – even something pleasant like an annual beach holiday – the memory just doesn’t stick in the same way.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Adrian Bejan, a mechanical engineering professor at Duke University, explores this neurological and physical factors responsible, in a paper called: Why the Days Seem Shorter as We Get Older, published in the European Review. In his paper, Bejan explains how it all comes down to something called “saccadic eye movement.” These are tiny, jerking motions that our eyes make involuntarily, several times per second. In between these jerks, our eyes focus, and the brain processes what we see. This process slows as we get older, meaning that our brains absorb less information. Because we are taking and storing fewer of these visual “snapshots,” it feels like time is passing more quickly.  

Photo by Kiki Siepel on Unsplash

Is there anything we can do to slow down time? Well, novelty helps. The more new things we experience, the more we’ll remember. So if you want to put the brakes on, try something completely different. Take a trip to somewhere brand new, take up a new sport, or try something really memorable, like hang gliding or karaoke. Or take a new route to work, and stop at a new place for coffee. Change up your routine, and see what happens to your sense of time passing.  

And keep those eyes open! Just think of how many “snapshots” are lost when you take a nap.

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